Rights groups seek return of land taken away in Sandeshkhali

Rights groups seek return of land taken away in Sandeshkhali

A fact-finding report, compiled by four human rights organisations on the basis of field research conducted and information gathered in the villages of Sandeshkhali block. was released at the Press Club, Kolkata on March 22, 2024.
| Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

A collective of four civil rights organisations on Friday released a fact finding report on Sandeshkhali violence and demanded that the lands which have been forcibly taken from the villagers be returned and made cultivable at the expense of the State government. Sandeshkhali, a block in Sundarban and under the administrative control of North 24 Parganas district was on the boil over past several weeks over allegations of sexual assault.

“In the last three years, the frequency of transformation of illegally encroached lands into poultry farms and Bheri has increased manyfold. The money was given for the first year but the villagers whose lands were illegally taken, did not get the land lease money for the next two years. When they came to ask for payment of the due money, they were beaten,” the publication said.

The report which was released at Press Club, Kolkata was compiled by four organisations — Ganontrik Odhikar Raksha Samiti (APDR), Shramjeevi Mahila Samiti,Amra Ek Sachetan Prayas and Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samiti on the basis of field research conducted and information gathered in the villages of Sandeshkhali block on February 24 and March 8. The study pointed out that land records have been altered illegally on a large scale. “According to the labourers and other villagers, the land revenue department is involved in this corruption. There are cases where the barga land records are in the names of the old owners, as many bargadars [sharecroppers] could not bring their names to the records due to financial constraints,” the report said.

As far as the allegations of sexual assault on women goes the study pointed out, “almost everyone we encountered spoke about the issues of summoning women in the late night and meeting behind closed doors.” .

Watch | Explained: What led to the violence in Sandeshkhali?

The organisations who conducted the study called for judicial inquiry into the entire incident involving land grab and sexual assault and adequate compensation shall be paid to the affected persons. “Appropriate scientific surveys should be carried out to measure soil and water pollution. Appropriate action should be taken if the level of contamination is beyond the prescribed level,” the report said. More than half a dozen people from Sandeshkhali were present at the launch of the report.

Speaking at the launch of the report Anuradha Talwar of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity said that rampant land grabbing is prevalent across the State. “Incidents like Sandeshkhali are happening all over West Bengal. We have to support this spontaneous resistance movement of the people of Sandeshkhali,” she added.

The rights group have sought exemplary punishment for Sheikh Shahjahan, Shiboprasad Hazra, and Uttam Sardar. All the three accused are behind bars and Mr. Shahjahan remains in the custody of Central Bureau of Investigation. The report also called for action against police, administration, land revenue department officials, and employees who helped such miscreants.

While psychologist and social activist Mohit Ranadip highlighted that there was conspiracy to divide people on communal design Vijaya Chand, advocate and activist said that several rights of the people were violated all across the Sandeshkhali.

Subha Pratim Roy Chowdhury, who edited the report also emphasized on the nexus of politicians with the police and the local block land and land reforms officer (BLLRO). “Sandeshkhali is a classic case of nexus of politicians with police and BLLRO. Rampant land grabbing and transformation of the same into Bheris [shallow ponds for fisheries] for a huge area, have destroyed the economic and ecological balance of the area,” Mr. Roy Chowdhury said.

Suchitra Halder, Mayarani Sardar and Maya Sarder, three women rights activists who had experience of working in Sandeshkhali in the past, highlighted the vulnerability faced by the women of the region, particularly when they are dependent on agriculture and fisheries.

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